Pets in Rented Properties - the Law
12-14 minutes to read
In this guide
- The Problem
- Why do so many landlords prohibit pets?
- Can landlords prohibit pets?
- Assistance dogs and emotional support animals
- The Unfair Terms Rules and Pets Clauses
- Granting permission with conditions
- Some things you could do
- If you keep a pet without permission
- But I thought the government had passed a law allowing pets?
1. The Problem
We see ourselves as a nation of animal lovers and many people either have, or long to have a cat or a dog – or even a bird or something smaller.
However, if you are looking to rent – it is very difficult to find anywhere that will allow you to keep a pet.
Often permission is only granted if you agree to a higher rent.
Tenants have lots of questions about this. For example;
- Are landlords allowed to forbid pets?
- Are they allowed to impose a financial penalty as a condition?
- What can tenants do if landlords just refuse to say yes?
- What can landlords do if tenants just keep the pet anyway, without permission?
Lets start by looking at why most landlords are so negative about permitting pets in the first place.
2. Why do so many landlords prohibit pets?
It mainly comes down to money. Pets can cause a lot of damage to a rented property which can be expensive to put right.
When the tenant leaves, the landlord will have the job of putting the property back into a proper condition to re-let. If there have been pets in the property (particularly cats and dogs):
- Furniture may have been damaged needing replacement
- Carpets may be infested with fleas, damaged by scratching and in some serious cases may be soaked in urine
- Walls, skirting boards, doors and windows may be scratched and chewed
All this costs money to put right. Unlike the popular perception of landlords, most are not particularly wealthy. They already have a lot of expenses and would prefer to avoid having to pay hundreds, or in some cases thousands, of pounds rectifying the damage done by their tenants’ pets.
There is also the problem that many people are allergic to pets (sometimes it is the landlord him or herself who is allergic!) and the cost of remedying this can also be expensive.
For example, if the landlord were to let a property to someone who was allergic after the property had previously been let to a pet owner, this could seriously affect the new tenant’s health – the landlord could even be liable for compensation.
Even if there was no problem with paying for all this (and we will be looking at this later on) landlords are mostly looking to re-let the their property fairly quickly and do not want long delays while properties are cleaned and repaired and treated for flea and any other infestations.
Remember that landlords are losing money while properties are empty – as they still have to pay their expenses such as mortgage repayments, insurance and the like.
So it is quite understandable, from the landlords’ point of view, that they would in most cases want to prohibit pets.
3. Can landlords prohibit pets?
The best answer to this is probably ‘yes, but’.
The ‘default’ position is that tenants can keep pets. So if you rent a property but do not have any written agreement, this will apply to you. You will be able to keep a pet – because there is no written agreement that says that you can’t.
However few tenants are allowed into rented properties without signing a written agreement first, and almost all written agreements will contain clauses prohibiting pets as standard.
So we need to consider the enforceability of these tenancy agreement clauses.
4. Assistance dogs and emotional support animals
There is one situation where a refusal of permission to keep a pet can be challenged and that is if that pet is a proper assistance dog required for someone who is disabled. For example for someone who is blind.
The reason being that refusal to permit an assistance dog will in most cases be discrimination under the Equalities Act 2010.
There is guidance on the Equalities website on assistance dogs here (although this is not specifically on rented property).
However many people today view animals as being necessary for ’emotional support’. Will it be discriminatory to refuse to permit these?
There has been a County Court case (which is discussed on the legal reporting site ‘Lime Legal’ here) where a 64 year old man, Christopher Palmer, with ‘significant mental health issues with a diagnosis of chronic anxiety with signs of post-traumatic stress and recurrent depression’ was refused permission to keep an ’emotional support’ dog. The Court held that this was discrimination and awarded him compensation.
However in this case the tenant was disabled and he had the support of his doctor who confirmed that the dog was beneficial to his condition. The Judge also noted the marked improvement in Mr Palmer when the dog was present.
It is unlikely that the courts would come to a similar decision unless you were able to prove that you suffered from a recognised disability and had the support of a medical practitioner prepared to stand up in Court and state on Oath that the animal is medically beneficial to your condition.
5. The Unfair Terms Rules and Pets Clauses
Assuming the animal you wish to keep is not an assistance dog – will a clause prohibiting pets in YOUR tenancy agreement be enforceable?
The answer to that is – yes, a pet prohibition clause will normally be enforceable, provided it complies with the ‘unfair terms’ rules.
So what are these?
There have, since 1994, been regulations providing for clauses in contacts between a business and ‘consumers’ to be ‘fair’ and those rules are now part of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 part 2.
We won’t go into the regulations in detail here (we have a separate guide here). However, tenants will almost always be deemed to be a ‘consumer’ and almost all landlords will be treated as being a ‘business’. So the regulations apply to tenancy agreements (and there is case law to support this).
Under these regulations, where a landlord is forbidding a tenant to do something, the clause must (unless the thing is something which is illegal anyway, such as keeping guns without a license):
- provide for the tenant to be able to request in writing for permission to do what-ever-it-is that is being prohibited, and
- say that the landlord will not delay or refuse permission unreasonably.
So a typical clause might be something like:
You must not keep any pet or any kind of animal at the Property unless you have our written permission (which we will not refuse or delay without good reason).
Most professionally drafted tenancy agreements (such as those that you can buy in the shops) will have this sort of wording.
The trouble is (for landlords) that many landlords, being unaware of the unfair terms rules, will object to the wording allowing tenants to apply for permission, and will delete it.
If they do this, they will then invalidate the clause, meaning that, yes, you will then be able to keep a pet. As the tenancy agreement clause forbidding pets has been rendered unenforceable.
We know this for sure as there was once a case on this point where the Judge said that the wording must be provided in pet prohibition clauses as otherwise, tenants would not be able to keep a goldfish in a bowl – which (in practically all situations) would be unfair.
So always check the terms of your tenancy agreement.
However, if there is a valid clause prohibiting pets – what can you do then?
6. Granting permission with conditions
The wording required by the unfair terms rules allows the tenant to request permission – but the landlord does not have to.
There will normally be a reasonable reason for a landlord to refuse – the fact that your pet could do damage to the property would probably be sufficient. As pets CAN cause damage. Even small pets can chew through wires and cause a fire hazard.
If your landlord is minded to grant permission this will normally be subject to conditions.
What sort of conditions are allowed?
In the past, landlords just used to take a higher deposit, or sometimes non-refundable ‘pet payments’ which they could use to cover the cleaning and repair costs often necessary after tenants with pets vacate.
However, this is no longer possible. The Tenant Fees legislation strictly regulates the fees and deposits that landlords can take from tenants.
- They cannot take a deposit of more than five times the weekly rent (six times where the annual rent is more than £50,000)
- They cannot take a ‘pet payment’ to cover any additional cleaning necessary due to the pet, and
- They cannot require the tenant to take out pet insurance to cover the cost
If landlords take any of those payments, even with the tenant’s agreement, they will be breaking the law and can suffer penalties.
Most landlords will consider five times the weekly rent too low for a deposit where there is a pet – particularly if that pet is a potentially destructive pet such as a dog or even a cat.
So what can they do if they are minded to grant permission but want to protect their position financially?
The only thing left for landlords is to charge a higher rent – and this is now what tends to be done. It is known as a ‘pet rent’ (although clearly not paid by the pet itself!).
Generally, the landlord or agent will work out the extra deposit or pet payment they would have taken prior to the Tenant Fees legislation, divide this by 12 and add it to the rent.
The problem is of course that unlike a deposit, this extra rent is not refundable if the property is left in good condition, and the higher rent will normally be continued if you stay longer than a year.
It is perhaps unfortunate that Parliament did not consider the question of pet damage to properties at the time the Tennant Fees legislation was passed and provide for it. As it is, tenants are stuck with pet rents unless the landlord is prepared to trust you and just take the normal deposit.
A restriction on the deposit charged to tenants was one of the big demands of the tenant organisations which led to the Tenant Fees legislation. Pet rents are one of the unforeseen consequences of this.
Unfortunately (for tenants) landlords are totally within their rights to charge a higher rent with a property with a pet.
The £50 fee
One of the few fees that landlords are allowed to charge under the Tenant Fees legislation is a fee of £50 (inclusive of VAT if the landlord or agent is VAT registered) if the tenancy agreement is amended at the tenants request.
So if you ask for permission for a pet halfway through your fixed term, and your tenancy is amended accordingly, your landlord is entitled to charge the £50 fee.
However, if you ask for permission (and this is granted) before you move in and the tenancy agreement is adapted to permit your pet, it is not.
7. Some things you could do
If you want to avoid an expensive ‘pet rent’ you will need to persuade your landlord that your pet is not going to cause any damage.
You could do this by
- Getting a reference from your current landlord (if they are willing to do this) saying that your pet has caused no damage while you were living there.
- Inviting your landlord to visit you at your current accommodation to see the pet and the state of your home.
- If your pet is a dog, proof of dog training might be helpful.
- Volunteering to buy pet insurance may also help (see our article on tenants insurance here).
- You could also point out to your landlord that some landlords’ insurance policies covers pet damage (for example there is a policy associated with the Lets with Pets website) and suggest that your ‘pet rent’ be limited to cover any extra cost that this would involve.
However, in many cases, landlords will not be willing to give up the pet rent. Many landlords have had experience of serious pet damage in the past and are just not prepared to risk it.
However, if after paying the pet rent for a year, you want to stay on, you could try asking your landlord, after the end of your first year in the property – if there is no evidence of any damage from your pet – if they would be prepared to reduce the rent back down to what it would be without the ‘pet rent’.
They may be willing to do this.
8. If you keep a pet without permission
This is not recommended, certainly not if you want to keep on good terms with your landlord.
Your landlord may not be able to do anything about it immediately but possible consequences could be:
- A substantial claim off your deposit when you leave (as you will be keeping the pet in breach of tenancy, the fair wear and tear element will not apply to pet damage)
- An unfavourable reference from your landlord if you need a reference for future accommodation
- A higher rent increase at renewal, or
- Your landlord may require you to vacate – if you refuse this would be through the courts. It may take some time for your landlord to obtain a possession order (during which time you would still be able to live at the property) but if you were evicted via the courts this would affect your chances of obtaining alternative accommodation in future
Generally, if you wish to remain living in the private sector long term, it is best not to antagonise your landlord. It will not prevent you living in the property in the immediate future, but long term it may make it hard for you to find private sector rented accommodation.
9. But I thought the government had passed a law allowing pets?
There has been a lot of confusion about this. The government has not changed the law.
What they have done is issue an amended version of their ‘model tenancy agreement’. This has a new pets clause which puts the onus on landlords to object within 28 days to a tenant’s request to keep a pet and give a good reason.
The trouble is, very few landlords or agents use the model tenancy agreement. One reason being that it is very long at over 60 pages! There is no compulsion for landlords or agents to use it and it is likely that the government have an exaggerated idea of its importance.
Even fewer landlords and agents will be using it now, if they think it is going to force them to commit to allowing pets!
However, when checking your tenancy agreement (which you should always do) you should read carefully the pets clause and see what it says. If you are lucky enough to be with one of the few landlords or agents who do use the new clause, just keep quiet and be grateful!
Although note that you should never keep a pet at the property without letting your landlord know and before permission has been granted.
This is the end of this article.
Letter requesting permission to keep a pet
Do you want to ask YOUR landlord for permission to keep a pet? In this guide, we have advice and a draft letter for you. Plus a sample letter showing how it can be used.
8-13 minutes to read
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